Our photography team caught this moment during a recent Good Shepherd worship gathering.
It’s that moment where, just before I pray and preach, I invite the congregation to lift their bibles (or their worship programs or phones or iPads … wherever they have the words of Scripture). I acknowledge that this is a strange thing for newcomers but then declare that it is “a moment of oddity that shapes our identity as a community.”
Why do we do such a strange thing? Here are five (or six) reasons:
- In a non-liturgical church, it’s a moment of liturgy. In even the least traditional of churches, people value continuity, comfort, and tradition. This moment has become ours.
- In an era when many don’t receive solid spiritual foundation, it’s a moment of teaching. This is where I state each week that “the bible is not a book. It’s a library, made up of many authors writing in many styles over a long period of time.” People routinely tell me that upon hearing that insight, their perspective on Scripture changed dramatically.
- In a denomination known for a lack of consensus, it’s a moment of identity declaration. Rightly or wrongly, many of our guests have heard that Methodists don’t take the bible seriously. This moment is our way of declaring, “we just want you to know who we are. We believe that this library is the only one of its kind on planet earth. It is God-breathed; inspired, eternal, and true.” It doesn’t make us fundamentalists. It doesn’t make us literalists. In fact, because it is a library, we do our best to read it literarily — interpreting each book according to the kind of writing it represents.
- In a fractious world, it’s a moment to acknowledge doubt. At some point in the liturgy we say, “You may not believe this yet or think what we’re doing is weird. That’s OK. We’re glad you’re here. We just want you to know who we are and what we’re about.”
- In a season of arrogance, it’s a time of moment of surrender. When we elevate the bible, it is our way of demonstrating visually that we willingly place ourselves under its authority.
- In a time when many wonder if church is worthwhile, it’s a moment of expectation. Our liturgy concludes with words that sounds something like this: “Lord, we know that you have truth and beauty loaded up in your word & that when we gather like this what is loaded up is getting ready to be unleashed. Let it be so!” It helps that I believe that to be the case. It also helps to state it — if the preacher doesn’t think what is about to happen matters and matters eternally, why should the people?